New York: Digital technologies have radically transformed all aspects of society. It offers endless opportunities for development, education and social inclusion, and transforms the advocacy process on issues such as human rights and humanitarianism so that large numbers of people around the world can be quickly mobilized around important topics that need urgent attention.
However, technological advances are increasingly being abused by governments and terrorist groups to create instability and exacerbate conflict, including through the spread of disinformation and hate speech online.
This was one of the main points raised by Rosemary DiCarlo, the UN’s Deputy Secretary – General for Political Affairs and Peacebuilding, during the Security Council meeting on technology and security on Monday. This is the second signing event hosted by the U.S. delegation, which holds the council’s rotating presidency this month, following last week’s discussion on conflict and food security.
The Security Council has become increasingly involved in efforts to address issues of cyber security and the role of information and communication technologies in influencing and shaping events in modern societies. The United Nations is also using digital technologies to improve its work on the ground.
Information at the beginning of the US Presidency of the Council, Linda Thomas Greenfield, the US envoy to the United Nations, said this issue was a “new and important priority for the Security Council” and that “it is time for the Council to to fully address the impact of digital technologies. “
DiCarlo said digital tools are helping to bolster the UN’s capabilities to gather information and early warning in many places. In Yemen, for example, the United Nations mission to support the Hudaydah agreement used mapping tools, geographic information systems and satellite technology to improve its monitoring of the ceasefire in the governor.
DiCarlo said new technologies have also helped remove barriers to entry for groups that have traditionally been excluded from political and mediation processes, thus helping to promote inclusion. She cited as an example the digital conversations with thousands of Libyans from all walks of life, which were broadcast on television and on social networks.
“This effort increased the legitimacy of the process, as different communities saw that their voices could be heard,” she added.
Similarly, digital technologies in Yemen have enabled the United Nations special envoy to make contact with hundreds of women across the country, DiCarlo said, “providing insight into the gender dimensions of the war.”
However, it also warned that incidents involving the malicious use of digital technologies for political or military purposes have quadrupled since 2015, saying activities targeting infrastructure that helps provide essential public services are of particular concern.
A May 2020 report by the UN Secretary-General noted that new technologies are often used for online surveillance, law enforcement, censorship and harassment, and called for more efforts to develop guidance on how to uphold human rights standards in the digital age to pass.
Last month, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution on the role of states in addressing the negative effects of disinformation on human rights. He appealed to members to refrain from conducting or sponsoring disinformation campaigns.
“Non-state actors are increasingly adept at using widely available, low-cost digital technologies to pursue their agendas,” DiCarlo said.
Groups like ISIS and al-Qaeda stay active on social media and use messaging platforms and applications to share information and communicate with their followers for recruitment, planning and fundraising purposes.
Lana Nusseibeh, the UAE’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, referring to the malicious use of technology by “large-scale non-state actors” that commercially available drones can now fly faster, cover greater distances and carry larger payloads, in favor of artificial intelligence and other tools to operate without manual control.
“Drones don’t just work in the air,” she said. “On March 3, 2020, the terrorist Houthi group loaded a drone boat with explosives and used a remote control device to attack an oil tanker off the Yemeni coast.
“If the attack was successful, the attack would have a devastating effect not only on the tanker and its crew, but also on the environment, local supply routes and the communities along the Yemeni coast that depend on the sea for their survival.”
DiCarlo said the abuse of social media could fuel polarization, violence, disinformation, extremism, racism and misogyny.
She also expressed concern about the increasing use of internet blocking in times of active conflict which, in her words, “deprives communities of means of communication, work and political participation.”
She called on member states to seize what she describes as a critical opportunity to build consensus on how digital technologies can be used to the benefit of humans and the planet, while also addressing their risks.